After the United States is conquered by China during World War IV, Gregory Illea rises to power, creating Illea: a new nation consisting of present day North America, split into 35 provinces, and turned into a monarchy. The people of Illea are separated into 8 castes with 1 being the royals and 8 being the homeless. Current Illea find themselves in a time of war and celebration with Prince Maxon Shreave finally being of age to find his princess. And with Illea tradition comes The Selection, a competition wherein 35 girls are chosen from all of the castes to live in the palace and fight for both Maxon’s heart and the crown of Illea. Pressured to sign up is a Five by the name of America Singer. But with her heart still yearning for a boy back home and her low status amongst a group of primped and polished girls fighting against her, America finds herself struggling to even want to compete. Until she meets Maxon. Now America’s heart is being pulled in every which way – for Aspen, for Maxon, for her family, for Illea, for her hatred of the caste system, and most importantly, for herself. Will she stay and fight for Maxon, knowing full well that she might not have what it takes to be royal? Or will she give up the crown to go back to her first love and a life with no power to change it?
My best friend is actually in love with this series and she finally forced persuaded me to start reading the books. The way she pitched it to me was, “they’re saying it’s like The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor.” Which confused me to no end – until, of course, I actually read it and gave an immediate, “ohhhh!” Also, as I am typing up this review, I will admit that at this point in time I have read both The Selection and it’s sequel, The Elite, because a certain someone was so adamant about me finishing the series in a day (which, I’ll give her credit for, she could probably do). So I’m going to try to go back and only talk about the contents of the first book. Shoutout to my impatient bestie who has created chaos in my reading schedule. Let’s begin.
Don’t read on if you haven’t read the book!
I feel like I’ve started most of these reviews with a preface, so why stop now? Let’s preface this one, saying that I have a bit of a dislike with love triangles in books. They don’t intrigue me as much. And they just cause me a shit ton of anxiety. Moreover, having a love triangle makes the lead character more susceptible to being a Mary Sue – which I see happening a lot in this book. It’s almost like America can do no wrong. America is beautiful. America is the underdog that the citizens love. America has befriended the maids and cares for the little people because she is a lower caste herself. And I’m not saying she’s a flat character or that she has no flaws. I just never feel like I want to cheer her on. I spent most of the book frustrated with her predicaments (more so in the second one I would say?) and wishing she would just make a damn decision. She’s so damn indecisive and it drives me crazy.
For the most part, the world of Illea is interesting, but it does remind me of the Hunger Games way too much. I can see how a lot of people complain that this book is just a knockoff. I mean both Panem and Illea are dystopian nations in North America. They’re both separated into sectors: one being districts and the other being a caste system. Both are run by the highest number: the Capitol and the Ones, where the wealth is disproportionally given in their favor. Both include people from all of the land being put in a competition where the rulers decide who wins. (Now if the girls of the Selection were fighting each other to the death this would be way more interesting, way more offensive and way more rip-offy of the Hunger Games…but I digress). And I mean, let’s be honest. The minute Gavril Fadaye was introduced, I almost called him Caesar Flickerman. Like – I see it. I get it. Very similar. But it wouldn’t be something that prevented me from reading it. I find no problem with the similarities. So let’s move on..
..to characters. I had the hardest time getting attached to characters in this book. And I don’t know if this was a personal issue or an issue with the writing. In no way, shape, or form did I love America as a main character. She annoyed me to no end. First, because her problems mostly relied on boys. It was literally a ping pong tournament between her ‘love’ for Aspen and her ‘love’ for Maxon. And I put love in quotes because I don’t think she has any clue what that word even means. She was a Five before the Selection. Now, that’s not the greatest to be, but it’s also not a Six with Aspen, wondering if you’re even going to eat that day and having your little brother whipped because he just wanted to fill the hunger in his stomach. So, already I’m a bit skeptical about her because she talks about the lower castes being garbage, but she also claims she only has like one or two nicer dresses, but what’s the use cuz they’re out of season (I’m sorry…what?) Now, in the beginning, America’s main problem is not that she is a Five. It’s that she’s in love with a Six and she’s afraid her parents wouldn’t approve because she’d have to go down another caste. Therefore, while society is an issue for America, her main problem is a boy. You know what, that’s understandable. Fine. Let her have boy problems. But now to get over Aspen because he doesn’t want her to basically demote herself to be with him, America is ‘forced’ to apply for the Selection. Because I guess it’s a good opportunity? Or for the money? I honestly stopped caring why. But surprise, surprise – America is picked as one of 35 girls for the Selection.
Now here is my problem. The entire premise of this book is about a dystopian nation that brings 35 girls from all over the country to basically fight in a competition – for a boy. In fact, they pretty much shun anyone who is only in it for the crown (even though, I feel like at that point you’re fighting more for a job position than for love.) You need to be in it for Maxon’s heart. And here comes a whole new string of issues for me. First, how do you expect to have someone fighting for someone’s heart when they know NOTHING about them. Most of these girls claimed they loved him before they were even formally introduced. Am I the only one who thinks that’s crazy? But don’t worry. It gets worse. Now, Maxon doesn’t normally leave the palace, so his social skills with women are pretty much nada (it bothers me that one moment he’s super awkward with girls, but the next he’s some sort of Casanova making them swoon? I just..) I feel for the kid who has to take on so much responsibility and deal with a life where he doesn’t really have any friends or people his age to interact with. But excuse me if I don’t throw a pity party for the boy who pretty much has 35 girls thrown at him so that he could have a wife. He spends most of the book complaining about how his decision is so hard to make. And I get it. Love should be something you naturally fall into. And you’re spending the rest of your life with this person. And all of the nation is watching your every move and throwing in their two cents. But fuck you if you think you’re going to show me a nation with a caste system that fucks over everyone on the bottom and then expect me to feel sympathy with the brat who thinks his biggest issue is finding love with one of the 35 girls who are begging to be with him. Your nation is in chaos. Your people are starving. There are rebels trying to kill you. And then there’s Maxon being all sad because just like everyone else in his damn nation, he can’t have a ‘normal’ life.
Which makes my decision of liking Aspen so much easier. I’ll admit, in the beginning I hated Aspen for breaking up with America and basically being a little bitch because she was bringing home the bacon (like damn, Aspen! That’s sexist as fuck! Who wouldn’t want a sugar mama..) But throughout the series, I liked him more and more. He’s just so loyal to her and honestly as much as he broke her, I don’t think America deserves to have him still fighting for her. You cant blame the guy for wanting a better life for the girl he loves. (Whereas, Maxon is basically cheating on you with 34 other girls that he’s trying to fall in love with, so…)
You know what I would have liked? You know the beginning of the competition when they were just friends helping each other out? That was adorable. And I wanted to see way more of that. And I wanted to feel the tension. I wanted them to take longer to realize that they should be together. I wanted less of the other girls as competition and more of her convincing herself that they’re just friends until one moment brings her to realize that she had actually been in love with him all along. It just all went too fast for me to enjoy.
Speaking of fast – if you asked me to name you all the girls in this competition, I would laugh at you. I barely remember anyone from the beginning and I think I was halfway through the second book when I finally picked up on who was who. They just all blurred together and nothing set them apart. And I get that some of that was done intentionally, but she would throw names in there and I would have to sit there and wonder who the fuck she was talking about.
Let’s bring up the Hunger Games comparison for a quick second. Now, the reason I loved the Hunger Games was not only for the amazing world that was created, but for Katniss as a main character. She was just so strong and so willing to fight. That book was a full on love triangle and not once did she let a boy get in the way of her as a person. Her family was before everything. The people she cared for was before everything. And I mean, she wasn’t really a likeable person. She had a stubborn and shitty personality. But she was a boss. And she fought for the people. She made a difference. She knew she wasn’t a hero and she didn’t want to be one. But when they pushed her against a wall, she stood up, she basically said fuck off to her love triangle issue (because when you’re in the middle of a damn war, boy problems shouldn’t be a fucking issue!) and she destroyed it. America tries to be Katniss. But she struggles to have that female empowerment and that notion of putting the greater good before everything else. Yes, she fights for the people. But her main issues are boys and which one she’s going to pick and the fact that Maxon might pick someone else as princess. And I don’t really care about that. I want her to start rebellions. I want her to get off her ass and do something. And while she tries – she doesn’t live up to what I think her character could be. A character I could admire. That might just be me. Not to say that others might not like her. I just didn’t really care for her or her issues.
Now, I will say this. The series is basically built to be an introduction, the main action, and a resolution. This first book was just an introduction to the story, to the world, to these characters. And I can’t place too much judgment because the other books will fill in a lot of gaps. I mean, I’ve finished the second book and I can say that I probably liked it a lot more than the first one. I definitely learned a lot more. I was more intrigued. I was still very annoyed. But it made me feel a lot better about the series. If you guys want another review after I’m done with all of them let me know. But for now, this is all I have to say.
Let me know what you guys thought about the book. Was it just me? Did you guys have similar problems? Maybe I’m a crazy person. Who knows!